Biomass energy plant in Goa
Using nutshells for climate impact mitigation
In November 2014, cashew and coconut shells ushered in a green era at the Merck KGaA, Darmstadt, Germany, production site in Goa in western India. This waste material from the surrounding farms generates climate-neutral electricity at the facility’s biomass energy plant and is thus greatly helping the company to achieve its environmental targets.
The goal of Merck KGaA, Darmstadt, Germany, is to reduce its greenhouse gas emissions by 20% between 2006 and 2020. This ambitious target can only be reached by employing smart energy-saving solutions at all of the company’s sites worldwide.
Biomass energy plant reduces carbon footprint
Greenhouse gases can be reduced particularly efficiently if energy is generated with renewable raw materials instead of fossil fuels. That’s why Merck KGaA, Darmstadt, Germany, has set up a biomass energy plant at its facility in Goa. The energy station uses cashew and coconut shells from the surrounding farms as fuel. This kind of energy generation is climate-neutral, in contrast to coal, which is the most common fuel for producing electricity in India. The combustion of biomass only emits the carbon dioxide that the source plants absorbed from the atmosphere as they grew. Unlike coal, the timeframes of this process in biomass are comparable to those of natural decomposition. That makes it a zero-sum game.
“We’re reducing our CO2 emissions and making ourselves independent of the external infrastructure.“
Merck KGaA, Darmstadt, Germany
Compared with a coal-fired power plant, the biomass energy plant reduces CO2 emissions by up to 11,500 metric tons per year. That represents about 85% of the total CO2 emissions of this facility and is also one of the biggest CO2 reductions at any site of Merck KGaA, Darmstadt, Germany. “The electricity that we purchase locally has a CO2 footprint of various sizes, depending on the energy mix in the respective country,” explains Gerd Vollmer, the Merck KGaA, Darmstadt, Germany, contact for climate policy. The “footprint” he’s referring to is the amount of carbon dioxide that is generated during a product’s entire production process and that acts as an invisible burden on the environment. “In India, electricity is mainly generated from coal. When we change over to climate-neutral power production, the CO2 footprint shrinks very significantly,” says Vollmer.
At its facility in Goa, Merck KGaA, Darmstadt, Germany, produces vitamin preparations, industrial and laboratory chemicals, and microbiology products
© Merck KGaA, Darmstadt, Germany
The changeover also brings an additional advantage: It enables the facility to have its own power infrastructure. This is especially important in countries like India, which in some regions have an unreliable public power supply. “We’re not only reducing our CO2 emissions — we’re also making ourselves independent of the external infrastructure. In this way we are optimizing our overall energy supply as well as the production processes at our facility in Goa,” he adds.
EDISON helps reduce energy use
The biomass energy plant in Goa is part of the EDISON
(Energy Efficiency and Climate Protection) program, a long-term project that was launched in 2012 to reduce energy use and emissions. This ambitious project has appropriately been named after Thomas Alva Edison, the famous inventor with more than 1,000 patents to his name and the founder of General Electric.
Developing a constant stream of new ideas and never resting on one’s laurels — that was the credo of Thomas Edison, and that’s exactly the attitude with which Merck KGaA, Darmstadt, Germany, is pursuing the climate protection measures of its EDISON program. The program involves 20 sites all over the world, which together account for about 80% of the company’s greenhouse gas emissions. These are the places that have the greatest potential for reducing energy use and emissions, and the EDISON program therefore focuses on these major energy consumers.
But all of the company’s other production sites have also been asked to develop their own energy-saving projects. This overall program has been a big success: The 2014 Corporate Responsibility Report lists around 300 climate protection projects that have been launched since 2012. These projects are already expected to save approximately 60,000 metric tons of CO2
per year in the medium term. An additional 57 projects with a planned total CO2
reduction of 37,000 metric tons per year were launched in 2015. In other words, the company’s sights are firmly set on its goal of reducing its greenhouse gas emissions by 20% by 2020.
The power plant in Goa is part of the company-wide climate protection program
© Merck KGaA, Darmstadt, Germany
Gerd Vollmer explains the plan as follows, “Most of the energy-saving projects are developed within the framework of the energy audits. In these audits, independent experts cooperate with specially trained local employees to examine the production processes and recommend potential energy-saving measures. These recommendations are evaluated once a year, and after that many projects are implemented.” The projects range from small improvements in process programming to the construction of energy-efficient cogeneration plants, such as the climate-neutral biomass energy plants. In addition to the plant in Goa, the company’s facility in Jaffrey, New Hampshire (USA), was also converted into a biomass energy plant at the end of 2014. The Jaffrey facility formerly used oil as the starting material for energy production, but now it uses woodchips with a certificate of origin. The use of these woodchips now saves about 3,500 metric tons of greenhouse gases per year.
Cogeneration as a successful model
Merck KGaA, Darmstadt, Germany, is relying on a distributed energy supply at other sites as well. At its own energy plants that use biomass or natural gas as fuel, electricity and heat are produced simultaneously (cogeneration or combined heat and power — CHP). This is a very efficient method of energy generation.
Gerd Vollmer is the Merck KGaA, Darmstadt, Germany, contact for climate policy
© Merck KGaA, Darmstadt, Germany
2 emissions. Since 2013, a modern cogeneration plant in Gernsheim has been helping the facility to reduce its CO2 emissions by 7,000 metric tons annually. The site in Darmstadt commissioned an energy station in 2014 that provides cooling, electricity, compressed air, and heat very efficiently. A second energy station is nearly finished. The company’s total investment in climate-friendly energy generation now amounts to € 37 million. The two energy stations are expected to reduce the CO2 emissions of the Darmstadt site by about 2,500 metric tons annually. That corresponds to the annual CO2 emissions of about 440 average four-person households.
The company’s two production sites in Germany, in Darmstadt and Gernsheim, are its heavyweights, accounting for about 40% of the company’s total worldwide energy consumption. Correspondingly great efforts are being made — partly through the EDISON program — to reduce these sites’ energy consumption and CO